Here are relevant references from the Books where vines are mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
Once I shouted in pain. Two fangs had struck into my calf. An ost, I thought! But the fangs held fast, and I heard the popping, sucking sound of the bladderlike seedpods of a leech plant, as they expanded and contracted like small ugly lungs. I reached down and jerked the plant from the soil at the side of the road. It writhed in my hand like a snake, its pods gasping. I jerked the two fanglike thorns from my leg. The leech plant strikes like a cobra, and fastens two hollow thorns into its victim. The chemical responses of the bladderlike pods produce a mechanical pumping action, and the blood is sucked into the plant to nourish it. As I tore the thing from my leg, glad that the sting had not been that of the venomous ost, the three hurtling moons of Gor broke from the dark cover of the clouds. I held the quivering plant up. Then I twisted it apart. Already my blood, black in the silvery night, mixed with the juices of the plant, stained the stem even to the roots. In a matter of perhaps two or three seconds, it had drawn perhaps a gill of liquid. With a shudder I hurled the loathsome plant away from the road. Normally such plants are cleared from the sides of the roads and from inhabited areas. They are primarily dangerous to children and small animals, but a grown man who might lose his footing among them would not be likely to survive.
I must have run, and walked, and stumbled on for hours. Once I stopped to rest. I lay, panting on the grass. My eyes were closed. I heard a rustle. I turned my head and opened my eyes. I watched it in terror. It was vinelike, and tendriled, leaved. A blind, split, podlike head was moving toward me, lifting itself slightly from the ground, moving from side to side. Inside the pod I could see, fastened in the upper surface, too long, curved, thornlike fangs. I screamed, leaping to my feet. The thing suddenly struck at me. It tore through the fabric of the slacks on my right leg. I pulled my leg away, tearing away the cloth. It struck again and again, as though sensing me by smell or heat, but was rooted, and I was beyond its reach. I threw back my head, my hands to the sides of my head, and screamed. I heard another rustle, near me. I looked about, wildly. I saw the other plant, and then two others, too. And then another. Sweating, picking my way, I fled from the area. Then I was into the open grass again.
Then I stepped warily, for I saw, to one side, a patch of the dark, tendriled vinelike plants. I stood to one side and, fascinated, watched them rustle, sensing my presence. Several of the fanged seedpods lifted, like heads, sensing me, moving back and forth gently.
But I was no longer much afraid of them. I now knew their danger.
I saw a heavy, bootlike sandal, the sort worn by warriors, which can sustain long marches over stony soils, which provides protection from the slash of course grasses and strike of leech plants, nudge Dorna.
The "leech death" is not a pleasant one. These creatures are not to be confused with the leech plant, which supplements its photosynthetic activities with striking, snakelike, at passing objects. It has paired, curved, hollow, fanglike thorns, associated with a pulsating, podlike bladder. The leech plant can draw a considerable amount of blood in a short time. They tend to grow in thick patches. There is not a great deal of danger from such plants provided one can remove oneself from their vicinity. They are not poisonous. Sometimes one literally uproots the plant in one's escape, so tenacious is the clasp of the thorns. It is different, of course, if one loses one's footing amongst them, or is thrown, naked, bound, amongst them. They are normally cleared away from areas of human habitation, from the sides of roads and such.
"How could they leave without detection by the watch?"
"They are Warriors," said a man.
"Like shadows, like serpents, as silent as the leech plant bending toward its prey," said another.
I would rest for a moment, and then be, again, on my way. Nearby, in the grass, was a tangle of thick, stout, leafy vines, on several of which were large, pod-like growths. I had seen nothing like them in the vicinity of either Tarncamp or Shipcamp. I did not care for the look of them, and so I moved a bit away. I then lay down. I pulled the tunic down about my thighs, though there were none about to see. I knew masters sometimes enjoyed looking on sleeping slaves. I supposed they found them beautiful. I wondered if we were beautiful. I supposed some of us were. I wondered if I were. I did know that I had been brought to Gor, and collared.
I awakened suddenly, screaming, unable to separate my ankles, which seemed fastened together by some thick, living, coiling, fibrous material. And I felt it moving more about my legs. Then I shrieked with pain. "Ost!" I thought. But there were no osts here, surely, not here. The ost did not range this far north. If there were osts here they would be caged pets, or assassination devices. I looked down, with horror. Fastened in my right calf were two fibrous, fanglike thorns. These had been concealed within the pod, which had opened. I did not know if it had been attracted to me by heat, motion, or the scent of blood. I screamed, and tried to rise, and fell. More of the snakelike tendrils rustled toward me. I could see, about the two thorns deep in my calf, tiny rings of blood. My blood, I understood, was being drawn into the plant. I could see the moving darkness within the thorns. Other pods had now turned in my direction. I saw another tendril slithering toward me.
The growth was alive, not as a plant is alive, but as a nest of disturbed, excited snakes might be alive. There was a fierce rustling to my right, reflecting the agitation of the growth. A sucking, hissing, popping sound came from the pod, whose two thorns, fanglike, were deep in my leg. It trembled. It shook. It was like a tiny, fiercely respiring lung, a small pump greedy and blind, a living engine without eyes or awareness, jerking and throbbing, fastened in my flesh, drawing blood from my body. I rolled away, to my left, and sat up and tore the thorns from my leg, throwing them, and their pod and vine away. The coils on my ankles drew tighter, and I rolled to my belly and, scratching at the ground, digging into it with my fingers, dragged myself away, inch by inch, pulling at the vines until they were taut. I was sure the thing was a plant and not a free-moving animal. It would live primarily by photosynthesis, and the water and minerals it could extract from the soil. I had pulled the vines partly from the soil, perhaps a foot or so, when, suddenly, they fell away. In such a form of life certain mechanisms had doubtless been selected for. The behaviors of agitation and attack had doubtless been selected for, but so, too, I gathered, triggered by tensions likely to accompany or precede uprooting, had been a release and withdrawal. It was almost as though the plant wished to feed but not at the cost of its own demise. Doubtless these things were random at one time but there are differences amongst behaviors; some are in the best interest of the organism, and others not. Then, statistically, over time, behaviors in the best interest of the organism, its health, longevity, replication, and survival, would tend to be favored. I slid back, away, further, from the plant. The coils which had looped about my ankles, and constricted there, withdrew into the tangle. Other tendrils stretched toward me, but, like restless, disappointed, anchored snakes, could move no further than their length, some a few feet, others some yards. I stood up and backed away, my leg bleeding. I looked back at the restless tangle of growth trembled, felt suddenly ill, and threw up. Fortunately, having found the thick tangle, perhaps a foot deep and some yards in width, ugly, and repellant, I had chosen to wrest away from it, but, it seemed, not far enough. Had I been closer to the tangle I do not doubt but what I would have been drawn into it, been covered by it, and, wrapped in its coils, drained of blood, and whatever other life fluids from which the growth might derive nourishment. Though I had never seen a life form of its sort before, I had little doubt what it must be. No wonder I had seen none about Tarncamp or Shipcamp. They were such as would be cleared away from inhabited areas. I shuddered. There are many dire fates to which a displeasing slave might be subjected. One often hears of two. She might be fed alive to ravenous sleen; and sometimes she might be stripped, bound, and cast alive to leech plants. These things I had encountered were, I did not doubt, leech plants.
I looked back at the thick tangle of vines and pods, which I was sure was a thick stand of leech plants.
I understood that it might be the fate of a displeasing slave to find herself cast, naked and bound, to such hungry, alert growths.
I did not wish to die under the jaws of sleen, nor writhe bound amongst leech plants, while a thousand eager thorns drew the blood from my body.
I had a scratch on my side and my right calf was sore, where it had been punctured by the thorns of the leech plant.
"Beware," I said, "there are leech plants."
"I see them," he said. "There is little danger if one is aware of them."
"Hold your sleen," I said.
"Steady, steady, Tiomines," he said. The chain leash was taut.
"Do not let him proceed," I said.
"He will not do so," said Axel. "Sleen find such things aversive."
"The trail leads here?" I said.
"Apparently," he said.
There was a rustling in the growth, and two strands, thick and fibrous, began to inch toward us, pods lifted, swaying, like the heads of snakes.
Axel backed away a little, shortening the leash.
"They are ugly things," he said.
I drew out my sword and slashed down at the vine to the right, severing it a hort behind its pod. Immediately the vine shook, and began to withdraw, trailing a fresh, light, green exudate, concealing itself amidst the leaves of its fellows.
I sheathed the sword and pried open the pod, revealing the two curved thorns.
"Blood," observed Axel.
"Steady your beast," I urged, for the sleen had lifted its head and gathered its legs under it. I feared it might lunge at me.
Axel took the opened pod, and held it near the snout of the sleen, which began to growl, and lash its tail.
"Your beast seems pleased," I said.
"The blood," he said, "is like paga, like sunrise."
"The trail leads away," I said.
"It is bereft of any hope of success," he said. "It courts doom. It is worse than ill-considered. It is no more than a venture into the corridors of madness, an act of blatant insanity. Better to have yourself bound and cast into a foliage of leach plants, better to lock yourself in a pen with starving sleen."
In a few moments the mud raft, of logs bound together with lianas, to be loaded with excavated mud, was again poled to our vicinity.
Explorers of Gor Book 13 Page 220
We stood near the mud raft, that raft of logs and liana vines on which we placed our shovelfuls of mud.
Explorers of Gor Book 13 Page 244
Another useful source of water is the liana vine. One makes the first cut high, over one's head, to keep the water from being withdrawn by contraction and surface adhesion up the vine. The second cut, made a foot or so from the ground, gives a vine tube which, drained, yields in the neighborhood of a liter of water.
Explorers of Gor Book 13 Page 310
I did not know at the time but Gur is a product originally secreted by large, gray, domesticated, hemispheric arthropods which are, in the morning, taken out to pasture where they feed on special Sim plants, extensive, rambling, tangled vinelike plants with huge, rolling leaves raised under square energy lamps fixed in the ceilings of the broad pasture chambers, and at night are returned to their stable cells where they are milked by Muls. The special Gur used on the Feast of Tola is, in the ancient fashion, kept for weeks in the social stomachs of specially chosen Priest-Kings to mellow and reach the exact flavor and consistency desired, which Priest-Kings are then spoken of as retaining Gur.
Some men from the Fungus Chambers carried on their backs great bags filled with choice spores, and others labored under the burdens of huge baskets of freshly reaped fungus, slung on poles between them; and those from the Pastures drove before them with long pointed goads huge, shambling gray arthropods, the cattle of Priest-Kings; and others from the Pastures carried in long lines on their shoulders the ropelike vines of the heavy-leaved Sim plants, on which the cattle would feed.
The grapes were purple and, I suppose, Ta grapes from the lower vineyards of the terraced island of Cos some four hundred pasangs from Port Kar. I had tasted some only once before, having been introduced to them at a feast given in my honor by Lara, who was Tatrix of the city of Tharna. If they were indeed Ta grapes I supposed they must have come by galley from Cos to Port Kar, and from Port Kar to the Fair of En'Kara. Port Kar and Cos are hereditary enemies, but such traditions would not be likely to preclude some profitable smuggling. But perhaps they were not Ta grapes for Cos was far distant, and even if carried by tarns, the grapes would probably not seem so fresh.
Priest-Kings of Gor Book 3 Page 45
I was astonished, for this girl was dressed not as a Gorean, not as a girl of any of the cities of the Counter-Earth, not as a peasant of the Sa-Tarna fields or the vineyards where the Ta grapes are raised, not even as a girl of the fierce Wagon Peoples.
"Many things now come together," said Scormus. "Even so small a thing as the presence of Ta grapes, generally associated with the terraces of Cos, at the banquet of Belnar now seems significant."
"These are Ta grapes, I am told," he said, "from the terraces of Cos."
"Yes, they are," I said. "Or at least they are Ta grapes."
Without thinking, I leaped from the back of Nar, seizing one of the long, tendril-like vines that parasitically interlace the gnarled forms of the swamp trees.
Surprisingly, though the pasang stones told me I was close to Ko-ro-ba, stubborn tufts of grass were growing between the stones, and occasional vines were inching out, tendril by tendril, across the great stone blocks.
Besides the designs there were also, growing from planting areas recessed here and there in the marble walkway, broad-leafed, curling plants; vines; ferns; numerous exotic flowers; it was rather beautiful, but in an oppressive way, and the room had been heated to such an extent that it seemed almost steamy; I gathered the temperature and humidity in the room were desirable for the plantings, or were supposed to simulate the climate of the tropical area represented.
Around the edge of the pool there were eight large columns, fashioned and painted as though the trunks of trees, one standing at each of the eight cardinal points of the Gorean compass; from these, stretching often across the pool, were vines, so many that the ceiling could be seen only as a patchwork of blue through vinous entanglements. Some of the vines hung so low that they nearly touched the surface of the pool.
It consisted of five huts, conical, of woven saplings and thatched, and was surrounded by a small palisade of sharpened saplings. A rough gate, fastened with vines, gave entrance to the camp.
The girl gritted her teeth, frightened, and was quiet.
"Remove their clothing and ornaments," I told the little men.
This was done. The little men then tied a vine collar on the throat of each girl and, by the arms, dragged them, one by one, to a long-trunked, fallen tree. About this tree, encircling it, were a number of vine loopings. The little men then knelt each girl at one of the vine loopings. Pushing down their heads, they then, with pieces of vine rope, fastened both under the vine collars on the girls, tied down their heads, close to the trunk. The forty-three girls then knelt, naked, hands tied behind them, ankles crossed and bound, at the trunk of the fallen tree, their heads tied down over it. They could not slide themselves free sideways, moving the vine loopings, because of the roots of the tree at one end and its spreading branches at the other. They were well secured in place, their heads over the tree trunk. One of the little men then, with a heavy, rusted panga, probably obtained in trade long ago, walked up and down near them. They shuddered. They knew that, if the little men wished, their heads might be swiftly cut from them.
Here and there, emerging from the lake, were great stone figures, the torsos and heads of men, shields upon their arms, spears grasped in their hands. These great figures were weathered, and covered with the patinas of age, greenish and red. Lichens and mosses grew in patches on the stone; vines clambered about them. Birds perched on the heads and shoulders of the great figures. On ridgework near the water turtles and tharlarion sunned themselves.
Bila Huruma turned away and looked back at the ruins of the huge building, at the great stone statues, worn and covered with vines, and at the city, lost and forgotten, lying to the east.
In the softness of the dust, then among the vines, moving across the field, our tharlarion in stately gait, we approached the girl, she at the large wooden tank, filling the vessels which would be slung over her yoke.
"Welcome, noble friends," called out Decius Albus, hurrying forward, under the shading latticework through which the afternoon sun stroked the laden tables with a melody of light and shade. Certain streets in Ar, in certain districts, are similarly sheltered from the sun, though with vines clinging to the latticework, and then, usually, here and there are stands of fruits and vegetables lining the walls.
There, ringing a depression, were more than a dozen small men. They wore loincloths with vine belts. From loops on the belts hung knives and small implements.
Explorers of Gor Book 13 Page 390
He was standing, pinching off the tips of new branches on the Blue Climber, a vinelike plant with large blue bracts amongst its common leaves, and small yellow flowers, clinging to the railing of the small bridge in the shogun's garden. This minor pruning stimulates new branching.
About the throats of the girls were locked new collars, again of inflexible steel, but now those of huntsmen, vine engraved and bearing the names of their masters.
"Remove their clothing and ornaments," I told the little men.
This was done. The little men then tied a vine collar on the throat of each girl and, by the arms, dragged them, one by one, to a long-trunked, fallen tree.
The leader of the small people then untied the ankles of the blond girl and unbound the fastening that held her, by her vine collar, to the loop tied about the log.
"Stand up," he told her. She stood up. She still wore her gag. It had been removed only to feed and water her.
The leader of the talunas stood before me, a vine collar on her throat, her hands tied behind her back.
He untied her ankles and freed her vine collar from the loop on the trunk of the tree. He threw her to her feet and pushed her head down, submissively. She then stood, hands tied behind her, beside the blond girl, the leader of the talunas.
But wines, as is well known, may be derived not only from the clustered fruits weighting the branches of the ka-la-na tree in the autumn, but, as on my former world, from vine fruit, tree fruit, bush fruit, even from some types of leaves.
Smugglers of Gor Book 32 Page 295
He then ordered that the woman be stripped and a vine leash be put on her neck.
Explorers of Gor Book 13 Page 231
We stood near the mud raft, that raft of logs and liana vines on which we placed our shovelfuls of mud.
Explorers of Gor Book 13 Page 244
Another useful source of water is the liana vine.
Explorers of Gor Book 13 Page 310
I took the triangular-bladed tem-wood paddle and moved the small craft, light and narrow, large enough scarcely for one man, ahead. It was formed of pliant, tubular, lengthy Vosk rushes, bound with marsh vine.
The channels of the Vosk, to be sure, shift from season to season, and the delta is often little more than a trackless marsh, literally hundreds of square pasangs of estuarial wilderness. In many places it is too shallow to float even the great flat-bottomed barges and, more importantly, a path for them would have to be cut and chopped, foot by foot, through the thickets of rush and sedge, and the tangles of marsh vine.
She was standing on a small skiff of rence, not larger than my own rush craft, about seven feet long and two feet wide, fastened together, as mine was, with marsh vine; it, like mine, had a slightly curved stern and prow.
My weapons were taken. My clothing was removed. I was thrown forward on my face in the rush craft. I felt my wrists pulled behind my back, and crossed; they were instantly lashed together with marsh vine; then my ankles were crossed, and they, too, were lashed securely together with vine.
I squirmed a bit in the marsh vine that constrained me. "Do not move, Slave," snapped the girl, who stood beside me.
Immediately the two loops of marsh vine knotted about my neck tightened, each taut, pulling against the other. The girl's hands were in my hair and she yanked my head back.
Then she had taken a length of marsh vine from a packet on her rence craft.
Then, looking up into my eyes, smiling, close to me, her arms about my neck, she insolently wound the vine five times about my neck, and knotted it in front. "Now," she said, "you have a collar."
Her few belongings were in the tiny hut. There was a bundle of clothing and a small box for odds and ends. There were two throwing sticks near the wall, where her sleeping mat, of woven rence, was rolled. There was another bowl and a cup or two, and two or three gourds. Some utensils were in the bowl, a wooden stirring stick and a wooden ladle, both carved from rence root. The rence knife, with which I had cut rence, she had left in the packet in her rence craft. There were also, in one corner, some coils of marsh vine.
"Cross your wrists," she ordered.
I did so, and with one of the coils of marsh vine, she lashed my wrists together, tightly, with the strong hands of a rence girl.
She indicated that I should lie on my left side, facing her.
Then, with another coil of marsh vine, she tied my ankles together.
"I shall win him," said another girl, a tall, blond girl, gray-eyed, who carried a coil of marsh vine in her right hand.
My wrists were bound behind the pole with marsh vine. My ankles were also fastened to the pole. Two other coils of marsh vine bound my stomach and neck to the pole.
Torches, oiled coils of marsh vine wound about the prongs of marsh spears, thrust butt down in the rence of the island, burned in the marsh night.
I went to the pole, and stood by it.
I would take rence from the island, and marsh vine, and make myself a rence craft.
I had gathered the rence and Telima, with marsh vine, and her strong hands and skill, had made the craft.
Telima poled us skillfully about a large, floating tangle of marsh vine, it shifting with the movements of the marsh water.
"Cut! Cut! Cut!" I heard the officer cry out to the slaves in the punt and, immediately, almost frenzied, they began to hack away at the tangles of marsh vine with their bladed poles.
I had cut some marsh vine and had, from this, formed a loop.
With the noose of marsh vine I dragged him over the side of the hull, lowering him into the marsh, holding him until I felt the tharlarion take him from me, drawing him away.
She hesitated, but then she did. I took a length of marsh vine and bound her wrists behind her back, and then, with another bit of marsh vine, crossed and bound her ankles. Then I placed her lengthwise in the craft, her head at the up-curved stern end of the vessel. With a last length of marsh vine, doubled and looped about her throat, its free ends tied about the up-curved stern, I secured her in place.
"Look out!" cried Ayari.
It seemed to rip up from the water, extending across the river.
It rose before us, reticulated and wet, dripping, a net, a barrier of interwoven vines.
"Cut through!" shouted Kisu.
At the same time, behind us, we heard shouting. From each side of the river, about two hundred yards behind, we saw canoes, dozens, being thrust into the river.
"Cut through!" cried Kisu.
Ayari, with his knife, slashed at the vines.
We brought the canoe against the net, so that I and Kisu, too, each armed with a panga, might slash at the woven wall which had, on vine ropes, sprung from shore, lifted up before us.
The shouting behind us came closer.
The trap, weighted, just below the surface, is activated by two vine ropes, slung over tree branches, ropes which are drawn taut when two logs, to which they are attached, one on each shore, are rolled or dropped from a concealed scaffolding. A signal which we had failed to note had doubtless been given.
The keen steel of our pangas smote apart thick vines. Water from the wet vines, struck loose by our blows, showered upon us.
"Get the canoe through!" cried Kisu.
We turned the canoe. A spear splashed near us. Ayah lifted aside vines. The canoe, vines sliding again at its side, slipped through.
Some of the talunas lay upon the ground, tangled in nets, the spear blades of the small men at their throats and bellies. More than twenty of them struggled, impeding one another's movement, in a long vine net about them.
They were scampering about on the scaffolding, it extending far out into the river. We could understand little of what they said. From the scaffolding, a double row of peeled logs, about ten feet apart, with numerous connecting bars and crossbars, fastened together with vines, more than a hundred yards in length, extending out into the flowing waters, hung numerous vine ropes, attached to which were long, conical, woven baskets, fish traps.
"Very well," I said. I threw the other pair of slave bracelets to Turgus. He snapped them on the dark-haired girl and then, as I had, freed her wrists of the earlier binding, which had been, in her case, a length of vine rope from the small people.
The principal ingredients of Sullage are the golden Sul, the starchy, golden-brown vine-borne fruit of the golden-leaved Sul plant;
Priest-Kings of Gor Book 3 Page 44
"Release him!" cried a vendor of Tur-Pah, pushing through baskets of the vinelike vegetable.
The odor became more pervasive.
I heard something brush the side of the hull.
Once again the heavy, sweet odor was pervasive.
One could now, in the light of the dawn, see the color about, yellow and purple, the myriads of blossoms, many a foot in width, opening to the morning sun.
We had clambered aboard the vessel, from a small ship's boat, cutting through the masses of snarled, ropelike, blossomed vines which encircled it, covering it, almost obscuring it. It was one of several such derelicts we had noted, resting variously in the sea, a pasang or two apart. We did not know how many such vessels might lie trapped in this place, in this welter of tangled, blossoming growth which stretched far about us. At first, from several hundred yards away, we had thought them only inexplicable mounds in the sea, hills of flowers uncannily forced upward by the riot of growth, vines upon vines. Then we learned the tendrils had clasped and climbed, and covered the works of men. The odor of these enormous fields of growth, alive, rocking and swaying in the sea, with their ubiquitous, massive blossoms, yellow, and purple, which had struck me one night some weeks ago as so pervasive, striking, and unpleasant, was doubtless as physically present as ever, but, interestingly, one now scarcely noticed it, excepting with an effort of attention. The odor, in time, became a lulling odor, and, no longer noted, but invariably present, tended to produce a sense of lethargy.
One could almost walk upon the vines, but one could draw a small ship's boat, or raft, through them, hoping eventually to reach free water.
The mystery of the parsit was solved, of course, as this wilderness of efflorescent plant life in the sea, floating like a vast park of life, drew myriads of small creatures, and these would draw the parsit, and the parsit would draw the shark, the grunt, and the unusual tharlarion.
So there was no reason to believe that we were near shore.
This growth, called the Vine Sea, is unanchored.
Lord Nishida's and Lord Okimoto's course, given to Aëtius and Tersites, had intended to skirt the Vine Sea by a hundred pasangs, but the Vine Sea moves, obedient to wind and current, and it was apparently far beyond its usual haunts. Lord Nishida's distress, weeks ago, at night, was occasioned by the perfume of the Vine Sea, which informed him that the ship had come upon it, he recognizing the full horror of its hazard. The obstinacy of Tersites, a fair wind, and a fortuitous canal opening in the vines had allowed the ship to proceed too far, in the darkness, and then, the wind failing, the Vine Sea had closed about her, tendrils reaching to her timbers. Men on ropes, in shifts, for days now, had scraped and tore away the tendrils which had begun to clutch at the hull, and sought to climb it, as Tur-Pah the Tur tree.
"There is no escape from here," I said, and I swept my hand toward the horizon.
"Clearly some have failed to escape," said Cabot.
"There is no hope," I said.
"Consider the derelicts you have seen," said Cabot. "None is larger than a medium-class galley, and none is oared."
"True," I said. It seemed so to me, at any rate, from what I had seen.
"And the ships are merchant ships, apparently, and, one supposes, would be crewed accordingly, with complements sufficient to the vessel, and perhaps little beyond that."
"So?" I said.
"I see no large ships here," said Cabot. "A large ship, with many in the crew, could work the vines, even over days, or weeks, cutting a path. Too, a large ship, with the force of the wind in her sails, might tear herself loose."
"I find that hard to believe," I said.
"A fresh wind," he said, "might clear the air."
I noted, again, the perfume of the garden, so sweet, pervasive, and heavy. I wondered if it did not have its role to play in this strange place. I could see two other derelicts from where I stood, smothered in flowers. "The flowers are beautiful," I said.
"And perhaps deadly," said Cabot.
"A slow poison?" I said.
"Let us hope not," he said.
Two men had thrown themselves from the bulwarks of the great ship, screaming, into the vines below.
Men had looted one another's sea chests openly, and then died in the corridors and companionways.
Two warriors of the Pani, which groups had not participated in the looting, had slain one another, which, given the custom of their discipline, was unthinkable.
"We cannot wait here indefinitely," said Cabot.
"We must try to break free?" I said.
"Why has it not been attempted?" asked Cabot.
"The looting, the danger?" I said.
"The looting was done, days ago," said Cabot, "at least of the ships conveniently accessible."
"The flowers?" I said.
"I think so," said Cabot.
"They are beautiful," I said.
"Yes," said Cabot. "They are beautiful." He then went to the rail, and lowered himself to the waiting ship's boat, and I followed him.
The large body, rolling beside us in the water, was almost as large as the galley itself. It turned away from us suddenly, its arched spine high above the water, and buffeted the galley which lay to starboard. There a fellow, cursing, jabbed down at it with a spear. There was a snort of pain and the large form was gone. The blade of the spear was awash with blood.
That would bring the sharks lurking beneath the vines, which extended some yard or two beneath the water.
Amongst the slashed, trailing vines between the galleys, sometimes entangling the oars, I saw, occasionally, the dorsal fin of a shark, briefly emergent, then whipping again beneath the water. Usually the fin disappears gracefully, slipping from sight, but the creature was excited. I recalled the tharlarion, struck earlier. There would linger ribbons of blood in the water. The shark of the Vine Sea, though nine-gilled like his cousins of the shorelines and tropics, is sinuous and eel-like, which, I suppose, facilitates its movements amongst the vines. Suddenly, ahead, some twenty yards, between the galleys and the numbers of ship's boats, the gigantic body of the wounded tharlarion emerged, its vast body, neck, head, and wide paddlelike appendages running with water, bright in the sunlight. It bellowed with pain, and dived again. "Back oars!" cried Pertinax. We rocked in place. The galley of Seremides, too, paused. The waters seemed placid. The other galleys, too, farther to starboard, must have held their position, as the great ship behind us neither moved, nor was drawn to the side. "Oars inboard!" called Pertinax. We drew the large levers inward. This is sometimes done in battle, when shearing is imminent. It takes no more than four or five Ihn. The ropes leading back to the great ship, no longer taut, slipped into the water. The oars on the galley commanded by Seremides were similarly retracted. I wondered what horrors might be being enacted in the depths. Many blossoms floated on the surface, amongst the vines. The sea tharlarion, in its varieties, not other than its brethren of the land, breathes air. Like the sea sleen, on the other hand, it can remain submerged for several Ehn, whilst fishing. I stood by the bulwarks and looked down. I could see no shimmer of parsit near the surface. They had departed the area. The sunlight glistened on the water, amongst the streamers of cut vines, the floating blossoms. Four or five Ehn passed. By now I supposed the tharlarion, and its relentless pursuer, or pursuers, might be a pasang or more distant.
"Help!" I heard. "Help!" The cry was weak, and yards away. At first I could not locate its source, but then I saw a hand lifted over the vines, and a head, lifted, briefly, which then slipped again from sight. Something was struggling, tangled in the vines. I did not know if the two beams on which I stood had moved muchly or not. I knew I was now in relatively open water, which suggested it was part of the road cut by the ship's boats through the vines, though it was much narrower now than hitherto, given the eddies, and the drifting of the vegetation.
"Help!" I heard, and saw the head of Seremides emerge from the vines. "I am caught!" he cried. An arm flailed about, grasping at vines. It was possible he could be pulled under, as the vines beneath the surface shifted in the currents. In any event, it seemed he was tangled in the ropelike growth, and, apparently, could neither dive beneath it, should he wish to do so, nor swim through it.
"Help!" called Seremides. "Help!" He held out a hand to me, tangled in vines.
We were now beyond the Vine Sea.
It had taken days to effect our escape, against the thickets of vines, and the renewal of growth.
Our tarn scouts had been invaluable, apprising us of the movements of that frightful garden in the sea, the circumambient, encroaching barricades of which might shift radically in days. That border which might lie within a dozen pasangs on one day might, as one sought it, given the shifts in wind and current, lie twenty or thirty pasangs away the next, and what had been further might now be nearer. The ropes of vines which entangled so many ships might extend their snares, as they would, but the great movements had their rhythms, and these, with tarns, could be tracked. Thus our sea road might be cut in a direction which seemed hopeless on a given day, given the tentacles of the garden, but, given the movements of the sea, might beckon on the next. The border, so to speak, as far off as it might be in any case, tended to move, and with some periodicity; it was thus sometimes closer, sometimes farther away. Charts, prepared on the basis of the reconnaissances of the tarn scouts, plotted these movements, and we moved toward the border, or edge, which, on the whole, was often closer than farther.
Even so it seemed unlikely we could have freed the great ship, as opposed to small boats, if we had not had an enormous complement of men, a small army, to work at the vines in our path, and cut them away from the ship. After the losses of the mutiny we fortunately had still better than two thousand men who might be applied to the work, some four hundred and fifty Pani, distributed between the commands of Lords Nishida and Okimoto, and some seventeen hundred mariners and armsmen, mostly armsmen.
If it were not for the tarn scouts and the complement of men at our disposal, it seems unlikely we could have effected the release of the great ship. On the final day, we heard the cry from the foremast, "The sea! The sea!" There was much cheering, from the small boats, from the towing galleys. We redoubled our efforts. Toward noon we saw tarnsmen returning to the great ship, hastily, almost frantically. There seemed agitation about. The grasping arms of the Vine Sea, from the north and the south, were drifting toward us. It had taken us longer than anticipated to reach this point. I remembered the signal, the beacon. Lord Nishida, I recalled, had feared the imminence of an enemy. It was at this point that I was suddenly aware of the movement of wind. "Ho!" cried men. The expansive blanket of odor, of the blossoms of the Vine Sea, with their clouds of insects, surely pervasive, yet seldom noticed for days, seemed suddenly rent. Briefly I drew in the first breath of the free air of Thassa which I had drawn since the night at the edge of the Vine Sea. Licinius Lysias, who had survived the sinking of the galleys of Seremides and Pertinax, rose at the bench, and pointed backward, toward the great ship. "See?" he cried. "Yes!" I said. The huge sails which had for so long lain slack from their yards, stirred. "Wind!" cried men about us. What a beautiful sight it was, to see the shaking, and then the lifting, and swelling, of those vast breadths of canvas. "Cast off the tow ropes!" we heard. The great ship was moving, like a mountain at sea. We went hard to port. The galleys, and the small boats, scattered, some being dragged over the vines. The great ship approached. Then it was abeam, and then off the bow. One of the small boats, tardy, caught in the vines, was crushed, and men leapt to the water, to be drawn aboard others of the cutting boats. The single, gigantic rudder of the ship of Tersites, was swathed with vines, but the wind drove her ahead. We saw yards of vines being torn from the sea. By evening the great ship was free of the Vine Sea and, sails furled, and sea hooks cast, she waited, a pasang west of the vines, the odor, and insects, while the numbers of ship's boats, and the four galleys, rejoined her. By nightfall the small boats were tiered in the galley holds, and the galleys themselves, scraped clean of vines and clinging blossoms, were nested. The wind shifted to the south, and we could no longer smell the Vine Sea. Rather we felt the sharp, salted air of bright, vast, green Thassa, fresh and clean, once more in our nostrils, in our lungs, and blood. We were again alive. Behind us was the Vine Sea.
Were there not rumors of monsters, behemoths, the strike of whose thrashing tails could shatter hulls, of watery countries of impassable, seeking, floating, thick, clutching vines, avid to ensnare travelers, of inescapable spinning wells in the sea, capturing and sinking even the largest of vessels?